War Heroes: Mihailovich the Unconquered

In July, 1942, half a year after the entry of the U.S. into World War II, a comic book quarterly was published entitled War Heroes which sought to present the stories of those individuals who exemplified the Allied will and determination to win the war. War Heroes was a quarterly comic book series published from July-September, 1942 to October-December, 1944 in ten issues. The magazine was published by the Dell Publishing Company, 149 Madison Avenue, in New York.The price for a single issue was ten cents. The first issue had profiled General Douglas MacArthur who appeared on the cover.

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Arthur Japy Hepburn, U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Robert L. Denig, and British Royal Air Force Commodore Arthur Leonard Fiddament wrote the Foreward to the first issue in the series. In the Foreward of War Heroes,, #1, July-September, 1942, the goals and objectives of the magazine were explained:

“Down through the ages, in the march of civilization against those who would despoil, there have been men — plain men — who have done the extraordinary in their sacrifices for freedom and democracy.

This War now enveloping the whole world is no exception. Tremendous responsibilities, great calls for service, and the ordinary calls of duty have been taken in stride by thousands of men. Some have achieved results beyond measure. Some have given their lives in service. All have been noble eamples for the youth of all nations.

This collection of stories of some of these modern War Heroes is by no means exhaustive — it is representative of service which has won undying gratitude of their nations and all the forces of righteousness in the world. Their achievements will be written into the record of this vast conflict. Their names will grow in brightness and in appreciation of all peoples, the free —fighting to remain free, and the enslaved — determined to become free.

These are men whose works will inspire others to do their everyday tasks and small duties with devotion, high honor, and a spirit of loyal sacrifice.”

(Click on image to enlarge.)

The Forward was signed by Rear Admiral Arthur Japy Hepburn, U.S. Navy, Brigadier General Robert L. Denig, U.S.M.C., and A.L. Fiddament, Air Commodore, R.A.F. Admiral Hepburn had been the Director of Naval Intelligence, the U.S. representative to the Geneva Arms Control Conferences in 1932 and 1933, and was Commander-in-Chief of the U. S. Fleet. Hepburn was appointed Chairman of the General Board of the Navy in 1942, a position he held during the war. Robert Livingston Denig, Sr., was a decorated Marine Corps veteran who organized the Division of Public Relations during World War II. Denig is credited with introducing the concept of embedding combat correspondents into the American armed forces to cover the war. For his work as director of the Division of Public Relations, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. His awards included the Army Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross in World War I, the Purple Heart Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Cuban Pacification Medal, World War I Victory Medal, Expeditionary Medal, Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal, French Legion of Honor, French Croix de Guerre with Palm and Bronze Star, French Fourragere, American Defense Service Medal with Base clasp, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal. Arthur Fiddament had been a member of the RAF delegation that met in Washington, DC, in 1941. In 1944, he would become the British Vice Air Marshal.

In the second issue of the Dell comic book magazine series War Heroes, #2, October-December, 1942, a four page comic story called “Mihailovich the Unconquered” was featured on Yugoslavian resistance leader General Draza Mihailovich which presented a brief look at the life and career of Draza Mihailovich. The cover featured Lt. Commander Lewis S. Parks, U.S.N., General Joseph W. Stilwell, and Brigadier General James “Jimmy” H. Doolittle. The subtitle of the magazine appeared on the cover under the title: “War Heroes: Thrilling heroic facts from the files of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the Royal Canadian Air Force.”

The comic story on Draza Mihailovich opened with a scene in the mountains of German-occupied Yugoslavia as Chetnik guerrillas prepare to ambush Axis troops. An inset image of Draza Mihailovich is shown with a description and introduction to the story:  “Amid the crags and peaks of the Serbian mountains, a heroic band of patriots fight on against Nazi aggression ….. An ‘island’ in the mountains! Yes, that is what the stronghold of General Draja Mihailovich actually is. An ‘island of freedom’. Surrounded by a sea of tyranny and oppression … The brave Yugoslav defenders of this last sanctuary of liberty in the Balkans, have been putting up a magnificent and, unending battle against the cruel relentless forces of the Axis.” Four Chetnik guerrillas are shown at a machine gun emplacement in the mountains.

The life and career of Draza Mihailovich, “the leader of the valiant Serbian guerilla army”, is recounted. He was a colonel of the Yugoslavian general staff who was promoted to the rank of general by the Yugoslav government-in-exile. He was born in 1893 in Serbia, was orphaned when young, and then was adopted by an uncle, “a famous colonel in the Serbian Army”. Mihailovich in military uniform is shown, then as a child and youth practicing to be a soldier. “Love for a military life seemed to be born in young Draja ….”

He then entered the Serbian military academy in 1910 and fought in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, “receiving a decoration for personal bravery”. Following the assassination of the Austrian Grand Duke in Sarajevo in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1914 war broke out in Europe. Mihailovich was a second lieutenant in command of a machine-gun company. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1916. He distinguished himself in battle against Bulgarian forces during the Great War, World War I. He was wounded on several occasions but returned to the front lines and into combat. In 1918, with the war won, he was decorated with the Karageorge Star with Swords for distinguished military service. In 1919, he was again promoted to captain second class, in charge of the guard.

In 1921, he entered the Army War College and became a member of the Yugoslav General Staff three years later. He served on the General Staff as a major until 1934. He was appointed the chief of staff of the Drava Division in 1937 and was commander of the 39th Infantry Regiment in Celje in 1938. He was a popular and respected commander but rejected the “useless and outmoded defenses” which the Yugoslav military command had in place. Instead, as chief of fortifications, he advocated a small, mobile guerrilla force. For his opposition he was assigned to a post on the “Adriatic coast line”. When the Axis invaded Yugoslavia and bombed Belgrade in 1941, he was stationed in Hercegovina and could not execute his military plans because the command was in disarray. A Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber with a swastika marking is shown attacking the city of Belgrade which lies in ruins and in flames.

The Axis forces routed the Yugoslav Army commanded by General Dusan Simovich and began “a campaign of horror, mopping up stricken and helpless Yugoslavia …..” Draza Mihailovich refused to be conquered and launched an unprecedented guerrilla war against the Axis occupation. “Mihailovich didn’t stop to ask questions or permission but assembling his small command, he bade them retreat eastward into the mountain fastness of Sumadija” where Serbian guerrillas had fought against Ottoman Turkish troops for centuries during the occupation of the country.

Instead of confronting the German troops head-on, which would be futile and disastrous, Mihailovich retreated to the mountains where he set up a headquarters and command nexus.  Here his staff was augmented by volunteers and former Yugoslav soldiers who had brought their weapons and equipment with them. A Chetnik guerrilla wearing a red coat and a blue cap is shown with a rifle slung across his back as he watches Chetnik guerrillas advance into the mountains.  The German occupation authorities sent German divisions to “dislodge the embattled Serbs who refused to admit defeat…” The guerrillas were, nevertheless, able to withstand German attacks and to launch their own counterattacks against German troops, inflicting heavy casualties.  German troops are shown scurrying and fleeing after a guerrilla attack amid explosions. The Germans sent aircraft to bomb and to strafe the guerrillas but were unsuccessful because the guerrilla gunners were able to shoot the planes down. A Stuka dive bomber is shown attacking guerrilla positions in the mountains.

The guerrilla attacks wreaked havoc among Axis occupation troops and enabled the Chetniks to seize much-needed weapons and supplies.

In the final scene, Draza Mihailovich, “the eagle of the Balkans”, is shown on a mountain crag with an aide surveying the landscape through binoculars. He is able to tie down much-needed German troops for the Eastern Front. He remains a symbol of resistance. He continues his defiance. He is able to maintain an “island of freedom” in occupied Europe.

The story presents accurately the image of Draza Mihailovich as he was perceived in the U.S. and in the West in 1942. There are, however, three typos or flubs. The word “Turts” should be “Turks”. The word “stead” should be “steady”. The word “hoard” should be “horde”.  The plot mirrors the news accounts which were causing a sensation in the U.S. and the West at the time. The factual background is presented well. The comic book depiction or evocation of Draza Mihailovich is fairly accurate, relying on the 1937 photograph that was extensively reproduced during the war, but slightly changing his expression and appearance. Overall, the story succeeds in conveying the popular perception of Draza Mihailovich then presented in the American media.